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April 6th – April 12th, 2024

April 6th – April 12th, 2024

Green calamities, Hogwarts and Seagulls, but first …

Gaming study aids Parkinson’s disease research

            Scientists at Dundee University led by Dr Tom Gilbertson have identified a ‘back-up system’ in patients’ brains which may kick in to help them stay motivated.  They compared patients with and without clinical apathy while they took part in gaming activities, finding that those who had not developed clinical apathy were able to make better decisions, effectively reprogramming their brains to use the back-up system.  Apathy is not depression, it is rather feeling indifferent and unmotivated.  Parkinson’s patients who develop clinical apathy are more likely to develop dementia.

            It may be that a double-hit of declining dopamine in the frontal lobe followed by the loss of the ‘backup system’ may be to blame for the disease progressing, as it appears that it is when both systems are lost that clinical apathy sets in, but the backup system may be up-regulated by serotonin, noradrenaline and other neuro-modulators, helping to stop the progress of Parkinson’s. 

            The team is studying patients taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors’ (SSRIs) and whether the use of drugs already available, like sertraline, may prevent the progression to apathy.

Freeports (2)    EU Accession

            Critics claim that the UK version of freeports may delay or seriously challenge an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU although the Scottish government denies this.  Freeports have in other jurisdictions become hubs of organised criminal activity, drug trafficking, counterfeit goods and money-laundering.

            In 2020, the EU clamped down on 82 free ports or free zones after identifying that their special tariff and duty status had aided the financing of terrorism and organised crime. 

            Richard Lochhead, Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, has denied it would affect a return to the EU, claiming that ‘green’ freeports focus on net zero.  But post-Brexit UK is keen on them as the UK has more flexibilities than EU operations, which are constrained  by rules on state aid, banning selective tax exemptions and financial incentives.  Lochhead claims freeports will be subject to ‘robust monitoring and reporting requirements’.

            The previous freeport experiment by Tory Margaret Thatcher was eventually abandoned by Tory George Osborne in 2012, who acknowledged that they ‘hadn’t really worked’.  Firms had moved operations already in the UK into the freeport zone, meaning a loss of existing tax revenues for the government.

            The final analysis of Enterprise Zones of the 1980s (similar to freeports) said the zones had created 58,000 excess jobs over what would have been created, but could not prove whether this was due to job displacement rather than job creation.

Next week…..Does the Scottish government retain control?

Circularity Lorna

            has come up with another great way of punishing ordinary people, with plans for issuing Fixed Penalty Notices to people who mix up even one thing in the wrong bin for recycling, or who don’t recycle, or who put a single-use cup in with the recycling, or any other transgression.  She seems to think this is proportionate.

            Under the Circular Economy Bill going through Holyrood, councils will have the power to fine and even criminalise householders.  Local authority binmen will report households who put things in the wrong bins.

            A step-by-step process will see warning letters issued first to errant householders, followed by fines and finally the threat of prosecution.

            One glaring problem, apparently not considered by Lorna, is that passers-by may drop the wrong litter in the wrong bin.  And what about communal bins outside blocks of flats?  Why and who should be criminalised for that?  It would be different if we all had lockable bins, but we don’t.

DRS Scheme delay

            The UK-wide rollout of a deposit return scheme for drinks cans and single-use bottles may be delayed to 2027 from the original 2025 aim. This is bad news for Lorna Slater, whose Scottish scheme was stalled by the UK government, and the Scottish government now faces £100 million-worth of legal action, including a claim from Biffa for the £65 million it had invested upfront in new lorries. 

Calamity Patrick

            is still hard at work trying to upset householders, particularly in rural areas, this time with a ban starting on April 1st on solid-fuel stoves and all bioenergy heating systems in all new-build homes, except as an emergency heating supply ‘where a need can be justified’, although it will also apply to future conversions of older properties.  It must also be ‘reasonably practicable’ (who decides?) to instal a clean heating system, but in any case ScotGov plans to ban ALL polluting heating systems including solid-fuel heating by 2045.

Hip and Knee Surgeries

            will be rationed if a cost-cutting plan is implemented by NHS Lothian, who are considering limiting operations for smokers or overweight people and restricting access to IVF treatment, as well as cutting hip and knee replacements and allowing one cataract treatment but not two.  Is this really acceptable? With a forecast deficit of £133 million, Lothian will adopt ‘Stop & Assess’ based on an impact assessment, to ‘stop provision of services’, saying an impact on these services is likely unavoidable.

           But the head of NHS Scotland, accountant Caroline Lamb, is paid over £200,000, so may just be able to afford private care.

Poverty and Early Death

            Scots are dying younger than people anywhere else in western Europe, according to Paul Johnston, chief executive of Public Health Scotland, saying that health boards are paying out £2.3 BILLION tackling the consequences of poverty, which are all impacted by the lack of good work, education, childcare and affordable, good quality housing.  Women living in the most deprived areas have only 47 years of good health and men 45.  Those in the most affluent areas have almost THIRTY YEARS more good health. Johnston says despite past improvements, Scotland’s health is now getting worse. 

Windfarms (2)  Should we subsidise Tesco and Amazon?

            Critics say that it is the public who are part-funding the giant corporations who are investing in windfarms, with the impact of Amazon, Tesco and Kimberly-Clark alone about £4 million, in the form of ‘constraint payments’ paid to windfarms to stand idle in 2023, and passed on to be paid by consumers through their bills, a record £275 million in Scotland in 2023.  The figures started modestly enough in 2010, when 3 Scottish wind farms were given £174,000 for ‘powering down’ when the grid could not cope with the electricity produced.  By 2018 it had risen to £116 million, by 2022 £210 million, and just over £307 million for 2023.  By March this year the cumulative total was over £1.5 billion, with Scotland accounting for 90% of the UK’s total constraint payments.

            But why so many wind farms?  Pressure group Scotland Against Spin (SAS) say Scotland already has more than adequate provision for itself, indeed is ‘saturated’, yet 3.5GW-worth of generation is under construction, with 7.5GW-worth having consent and awaiting construction.  A massive 14GW-worth are seeking planning permission. But SAS allege that some developers are choosing the north of Scotland precisely because the national grid here is inadequate, so they are much more likely to get constraint payments due to the grid being unable to cope.

Next week …. Public and Private Windfarms

Glasgow Education Cuts a ‘Seismic’ hit on pupils

            Glasgow have already approved budget cuts to hundreds of teaching and mentoring posts, with the possibility some teachers may be allocated a full teaching timetable when now they are part-time senior management team.  Schools can theoretically use the Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) to hire more teachers for elsewhere in the school but this is really intended for use for disadvantaged P1 – P3 pupils.  Schools receive £1200 extra per pupil registered for free school meals.  Greg Dempster of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland said the council has pushed this through as a ‘service redesign’ rather than the cuts it actually is, with schools needing to reduce ‘family learning, sports events, and whole school events’.

            Glasgow City Parents Group say education is being put into a ‘state of emergency’, but the council say there will be no compulsory redundancies and they will keep families reassured and informed.

All Aboard for Hogwarts (or not)

            Glenfinnan Viaduct, home of Hogwarts rail between Fort William and Mallaig, is to undergo repairs costing £3.4 million and lasting a year.  But West Coast Railways (WCR) have been accused of ‘atrocious behaviour’ in refusing to comply with safety requirements for the train to continue operating.  It needs a central locking system to comply with health and safety requirements or a further exemption from the rail regulator, which has not been obtained, resulting in the suspension of the Jacobite service which brings hundreds of tourists daily to the area.

            WCR failed to get the exemption, followed by a judicial review which failed, with WCR claiming the costs of the locking system would be £7 million, although the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) say the cost would be £350,000 per train. 

            Local businesses are losing massive amounts of money at short notice, having bookings for B&Bs, restaurants and so on cancelled at the last minute, and are furious with the train operators, who say fitting central locking devices (CDLs) would wipe out their profits for a decade.  They claim that selective door locking and hinged door locks are just as safe according to a risk assessment they themselves carried out.


            Elgin, Forres, Lossiemouth and Buckie are deploying lasers to deal with nuisance seagulls.  The green beam of light looks to the gulls like a physical threat, causing them to relocate.  Ten sonic devices will be installed in Elgin, with two hawks also deployed at certain times in local hot spots.  The measure resulted in a significant fall in the number of nests last year, and Elgin councillor Graham Leadbitter encouraged people to clear moss from their roofs and not feed the gulls.

            The nearly £690,000 price tag was paid by £657,000 from the council and £27,000 from common good funding.


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